Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity…The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either” -C.S. Lewis
As I go on with this theme of Genesis, the Christian perspective of origins, and the light it can shed on evolution, along with the reality of suffering, I thought that C.S. Lewis’ words were especially relevant. Especially because the perspective I’m working towards is not the dominant one, and it takes time to think through it, to see a possibility if we have never before considered it.
In the last post I said that there were a few places in the Christian Scriptures which seem to imply that:
somehow mankind bears responsibility for the reality of death, all death; humans, amphibians, insects… Many Christians believe that, because of passages like Genesis 3:17-19, not just death, but all suffering in the world is the direct result of humanity’s rebellion against God.”
But, the passages I mentioned only directly state that mankind is responsible for human death (Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:56-57, Romans 6:23, 1 Corinthians 15:21) . On the other hand, there are other passages which seems to indicate that the “curse” in Genesis 3:17 applies to all of the world, and therefore that the rebellion of humanity is the primary cause of the decay of the entire world. One text is Romans 8:20-21
For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly but because of the one who subjected it – in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.”
What I want to explore in this post then is what the curse of Genesis 3:17 meant, since how we interpret the passage above is largely determined by that background. The next post will deal more with Rom. 8:20-21 and others like it, and that should lead to the opening of a perspective that I think makes the entire narrative of scripture incredibly beautiful.
To start, we can note that if we don’t have reasons beforehand for thinking that the entire world was a paradise like Eden, God’s words in Gen 3:17 can be taken as a statement to Adam; he and his descendents would never again enjoy the kind of provision which came so easily in Eden. Although it is true that God’s pronouncement of a “curse” applied to the entire earth, the passage does not imply that everything outside of “Eden” was fine and dandy until God said that. Instead, the curse can be seen as a judgement that derailed God’s intentions for creating humanity, the focus of the judgement being on us. We’ll unpack this in the next two posts, but first, a few more misconceptions to work through here.
Many do think they have reasons for thinking that the whole world was an Edenic paradise before this. Despite the label “Garden of Eden“, the dominant understanding is that the paradise of Eden reflected the state of the whole world, and not just a specific piece of land, the way we’d normally understand a “garden”.
A primary reason for this is the belief that “In Genesis, God created everything ‘good'” . This is true, but it omits a few important facts. The reason we believe God created everything good is because in Genesis we’re told God calls things good. But, there are several things which appear in the story that God does not explicitly call good.
For one thing, there’s a serpent that appears in the garden to tempt Adam & Eve. God certainly never called the serpent good.
Also, we read in Genesis 1:2:
Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the face of the deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water” (new english translation, emphasis added)
None of the things I highlighted there are called good by God.
The same Hebrew word for “darkness” is later used to “symbolize what opposes God, such as judgment (Exod 10:21), death (Ps 88:13), oppression (Isa 9:1), the wicked (1 Sam 2:9) and in general, sin. In Isa 45:7 it parallels ‘evil.’ ” (netbible.org).
The Hebrew word for “deep” is “tÿhom” and it is distinct from the word for “water”. The word “tÿhom” represented “chaos” for several other Middle-Eastern creation accounts. The ocean was the literal manifestation of that chaos, and it was a basic assumption of many ancient cultures, including that of the Hebrews, that the entire earth rested on water which God had to tame and push back in order to create the world (Prov. 8:27-29, Job 38:4-11) (netbible.org).
As we read on in Genesis 1:4, God “saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness.” God never calls the darkness “good” either. I don’t mean to belittle the beauty of a moonlit landscape of course, but simply to point out that the more literal you attempt to interpret Genesis, the less it warrants the belief that everything on earth was perfect, even with the start we’re given in Genesis 1.
Another point is that in Genesis 2:8-2:17 it’s fairly clear that we are supposed to understand the provision given to Adam & Eve as being connected to the location where God “places” them. Several geographical markers are given to denote a region of land, and it is in this region that God tells the man and woman, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard”. This counts for the belief that the abundance of Eden was unique, and not the same throughout the world.
Lastly, when God removes the man and woman from the garden, Genesis says “So the Lord God expelled him from the orchard in Eden to cultivate the ground from which he had been taken.” (Gen 3:23). This gives the “curse” of 3:17-3:18 a direct application, to the ground from which he had been taken. While this does imply that all the ground outside of Eden (and possibly including it) was going to suffer in some way because of humanity’s fall, it also implies that Adam had been, up to that point, enjoying a privileged location/state from which he was “expelled”.
All of this leaves most of the traditional interpretation of “the curse” the same, except for an important assumption that is not at all clear in the story: that the entire world was like Eden prior to humanity’s fall.
While the curse of Gen. 3:17 affected the entire world, especially humanity’s state of being provided for without worry, it was not necessarily the starting point for the decay of the creation. If this is true, the next question is what is “the bondage of decay” in Romans 8:20-21? I think this leads perfectly into consideration of the entire Genesis narrative in a different light.